Missing African Olympians look to claim asylum in UK following London 2012
Monday, 20 August 2012
August 20 - Over a dozen African athletes that went missing after competing at the London 2012 Olympics are reportedly looking to claim asylum in Britain after they refused to return home with their teams.
Global headlines were caused during the Olympics when seven Cameroonian athletes left the Athletes' Village without informing team officials and it has emerged that they were followed by African athletes from nations including Eritrea, Guinea and the Ivory Coast.
The majority of the athletes seeking asylum will not speak publicly about their decisions for fear of retribution against their families, however steeplechase runner Weynay Ghebresilasie (pictured top, centre), the 18-year-old who carried Eritrea's flag during the Olympic Opening Ceremony, revealed he and the other athletes are seeking to escape from repressive regimes back home.
"As recently as last month, when I competed in Spain, I had managed to retain some optimism that the conditions back home would get better but they seem to be getting worse and worse instead," Ghebresilasie said.
"There are reasons to be concerned about our families [for seeking asylum in the United Kingdom] because the regime is unpredictable and is likely to treat my actions as a betrayal.
"If someone is being accused of illegally leaving the country it's not unusual for a fine to be imposed on their family, or for their next of kin to be detained."
Ghebresilasie finished 10th in his 3,000 metres steeplechase heat to miss out on a spot in the final and blamed political conditions back home for the result.
Eritrea allegeldy has a very poor human rights record under President Isaias Afewerki.
"It had been a dream come true to compete here [in London] and I was hoping to perform well, perhaps even come close to a medal," Ghebresilasie said.
"But due to mismanagement and politics I could not achieve what I wanted.
"The truth is that we are not treated as athletes.
"For example, there were times when we went to other countries to compete and I was denied medical treatment by the Eritrean officials in charge, some of them high ranking-army officers.
"I still very much love my country but it's the harsh conditions and lack of basic human rights which has compelled me to seek asylum."
Of the twelve athletes from Eritrea that competed at the Olympics, four have already claimed asylum in the UK.
Visas permitting Olympic athletes to be in the UK legally run out in November and no action can be taken until then.
The Home Office has refused to comment on the reports, saying it does not speak about individual cases, however, athletes seeking asylum at sporting events is not a new occurrence.
At the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games, 20 members of the Sierra Leone team went missing from their camp before the end of the competition.
Visa overstays and asylum applications also followed the Sydney 2000 Olympics, while Olympic defections were common during the Cold War.
One of the best-known incidents was at the Melbourne 1956 Olympics when half the Hungarian delegation defected to the West after the Games.
Experts say it is too early to tell what will happen to the African athletes who have gone missing as they may overstay their visas, apply to become a refugee or return to their countries before their visas expire.
August 2012: Seven Cameroonian London 2012 athletes go missing